Educating ethnic minorities in Cambodia

13 July 2018

In Cambodia’s northeast, ethnic communities comprise a majority of the population and are amongst the poorest and most marginalised. Many have little or no command of the national language, Khmer, which is used in the national curriculum. This contributes to low enrolment and retention rates of ethnic minority students in Ratanak Kiri and Mondul Kiri.  

Photo of girl outside of classroom

CARE works with communities and the government to ensure ethnic minority children start learning at school in their mother tongue before learning Khmer. Credit: Erika Pineros.

With Australian Aid support through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP), CARE Australia is advocating for and working with these indigenous communities to provide multilingual education, with considerable success. CARE is a recognised global leader in the field of girls’ education. To date more than 6,500 students have been provided with access to education in a language they can understand.

CARE’s approach has been adopted by the Cambodian Government, scaled up and introduced to other geographic areas. To support this CARE is training Government Officials, with a core focus on sensitising teachers to the needs of indigenous ethnic minority girls in the classroom. Teachers learn gender sensitive instruction and how to challenge gender stereotypes, such as the male and female professions often portrayed in textbooks.

Additionally, CARE is addressing the underlying causes of low school attendance and transition rates, which are particularly low for girls. A key achievement has been the significant increase in girls’ enrolments in primary school and secondary school, from 356 in 2008-2009 to 2,683 in 2016-2017.

Another achievement is the improved enrolment rates amongst indigenous students at lower secondary schools, which has increased by 38%. Also, culturally appropriate learning materials have been created and positively received. Textbooks covering the national curriculum between Grades 1 to 3 have been translated into ethnic languages. Two social issue books – Girls Be Brave and Safe Migration – portray positive female role models and avoid gendered stereotyping

Since the project started, 133 teachers across 11 schools have been trained in ethnic minority-sensitive instruction. Feedback from students indicates that teachers were demonstrating an understanding of the needs of ethnic minority students, leading to a more inclusive environment encouraging student participation. The project has also improved access to secondary education. Re-enrolment campaigns conduct house calls to families of dropout students, with 50% of those returning to study.

Photo of Teacher with children in class
6,500 ethnic minority children in 350 schools have gained an education as a result of CARE’s work. Credit: Erika Pineros.
Last Updated: 13 July 2018